Feed Prices Keep Going Up!
I’m always looking for ways to provide healthy, organic feed for my flock without busting the budget. Organic feed isn’t cheap and the cost of keeping chickens keeps increasing. This winter I calculated that our organic, home raised eggs cost about $5 per dozen. It always costs more to feed the flock in the winter and the hens don’t produce as many eggs. There are some ways to increase production, but in our northern climate I know we will pay more for eggs in winter. However, I really wasn’t prepared for the sticker shock when I actually added up the feed bill and divided by the number of eggs they are producing.
So I’m on a mission to reduce the cost of feeding my flock. I’m guessing that most chicken enthusiasts would like to cut back on their feed bill too. So here is my list of 12 ways to reduce the cost of feeding your chickens. Not all of these ideas will work for everyone, so choose the methods that make the most sense for you.
12 Ways to Reduce the Chicken Feed Bill
- Keep breeds that need less feed.
- Try mixing your own chicken feed.
- Raise sprouts and fodder for your flock.
- Keep a compost pile in the chicken pen.
- Feed table scraps, but don’t give moldy or rotten foods.
- Cook damaged eggs and feed back to the flock.
- Keep a garden and feed produce to your birds.
- Let your flock till the garden in the spring and fall.
- Raise your chickens on pasture or let them free range.
- Grow your own grains, sunflower seeds, and field peas.
- Don’t overfeed your birds.
- Reduce the size of your flock by culling old laying hens.
Are These Methods Fool Proof?
I’m not really sure that anything is fool proof, but many of these ideas will at least help to reduce your feed bill. When you combine methods, or use all of these ideas, you might be able to reduce your chicken expenses considerably. Let’s take a closer look at some of these methods.
Feed Efficient Breeds
Dual purpose breeds generally consume more feed than laying breeds. If you don’t intend to eat your laying hens when they are past their prime, consider keeping a more feed efficient breed such as White Leghorns, California White, Red Star, or another laying hybrid.
You can also raise breeds that are active foragers. These birds will find more of their own feed when given a good sized pasture or allowed to free range. In my flock Americaunas and Easter Eggers actively forage for their own grub, making them one of my favorites. They also lay quite well at around 5 to 6 months old.
Mix Your Own Feed
If you have a source for whole grains, field peas, and supplements for your chickens, you might be able to mix your own and save some money. Whole grains are more nutritious than feed that has been ground in advance, and may be less expensive. I attempted to mix my own feed last year and found that my hens would not consume enough oyster shell on the side to supply the calcium necessary for strong egg shells. You may have a different experience.
Sprouting Seeds and Raising Fodder
I recently began sprouting wheat grass for my flock in an attempt to reduce the feed bill and give them green feed for deeper colored yolks in the winter. The ducks go crazy for the sprouts and most of the chickens like them too. I haven’t been feeding them sprouts long enough to come to a conclusion about feed costs and nutritional value, but everything I’ve read points to increased production for decreased cost.
Compost,Table Scraps, and Cracked Eggs
I recently watched a video produced by permaculture guru Geoff Lawton about a gentleman who raises his chickens on nothing but compost. I’ve been tossing all table scraps, cracked eggs, egg shells, and garden ‘waste’ into my chicken pen since I started keeping a flock. I can definitely say that the chickens make the best use of my compost. They eat what they like, plus the bugs that are attracted to the leftovers. I just wish I had more compost!
My Chickens Love Tomatoes
The chickens eat a lot less feed in the summer when my garden is in full swing. Anything that has been ruined by bugs, is over ripe, or we just can’t use fast enough goes to the flock. The ducks are crazy about cucumbers too. Of course, the peelings, etc go to them too when I can, freeze, or dehydrate my produce.
This spring I plan to fence in my garden so that the chickens and ducks can work up the soil and eat some of the grubs before I plant my seeds. I will probably ban them from the garden before anything is planted.
If you have the space on your property to raise wheat, oats, barley, field peas, and sunflower seeds you can really save a great deal on you feed bill. Of course, there is the cost of seed, fuel, and equipment but you should still come out ahead. You can reduce the expenses further my raising heirloom grains by hand instead of buying seed each year and keeping a tractor for planting and harvesting.
Pasture vs Free Range
If you live in an area where your chickens can safely free range during the day they will search for seeds, grass, bugs, and weeds. This variation in their diet will keep them healthy, happy, and well fed with oyster shell and layer feed on the side. Not everyone can let their flock free range due to space limitations, predators, or neighbors. Our property is not set up for free ranging the flock so I have a large pasture that keeps them out of the neighbors yard and the road, but allows them plenty of room to forage.
Don’t Spoil Your Chickens
This will be a tough one for many chicken enthusiasts who view their birds as pets rather than livestock. Too many treats will increase the cost of keeping a flock, and so will keeping older hens that aren’t laying well anymore.
Hens that are overfed get fatty tissue in their abdomens and this leads to decreased egg production. So be sure that you aren’t over feeding your flock or giving them too much corn, sunflower seed, or other high fat foods. They also need daily exercise to stay healthy and in good laying condition.
Once your hens pass their prime laying years, you may wish to cull them from the flock and make a nice pot of chicken soup. This won’t go over well for people who name their hens and consider them pets. When you first get your chickens you need to make a decision about whether or not you are willing to keep feeding your hens throughout their retirement years. Keep in mind that a hen can live to be 10 years old when properly cared for. But they will only lay really well for about 2 or 3 years. If you don’t want to feed non-productive hens, I suggest you ditch the pet names and consider them livestock from the very beginning. Make sure the whole family understands that these chickens will be eaten at some point and don’t get attached!
Do you have ways of reducing your feed costs that aren’t mentioned here? How much do your eggs cost? Are your chickens pets or livestock? I enjoy reading about how other people raise their poultry so please share!